Learn from the Woodcutter – Sharpen Your Axe

If you aren’t familiar with “The Woodcutter’s Dilemma“, and hope to stay gainfully (and blissfully) employed as your utility company transforms, you need to read his story:

A sweating woodcutter who—while clunkily trying to chop down a tree—was approached by a young man who asked, “What are you doing?”

The woodcutter replied with a “duh” version of, “I’m cutting down this tree.”

“You look exhausted,” responded the young man. “Take a break. Sharpen your axe.”

The woodcutter, who had been working for hours, had very little patience for the “know-it-all” young man distracting him from the job at hand. Nevertheless, he stopped to catch his breath and bring the young man up-to-speed.

“Dusk is nearing, and I need to finish before it gets dark. If I stop to fiddle with my axe, I’m not going to finish on time.” The young man, perplexed as to why the woodcutter would continue doing it the hard way, shrugged his shoulders and walked away.

In this analogy, your contribution to your company is the tree, and you are the axe. Here is the logic:

  1. Carving out time to work on yourself sharpens the axe;
  2. Your ability to excel in your current role (chop down the tree) increases when you sharpen your axe; and…
  3. Sharper tools set you up for new roles–perhaps your current “tree” is standing between you and what you would rather be doing.

The Woodcutter’s Relevance Today

Prior to 2020, utility professionals began taking steps to evolve into more customer-centric versions of themselves with digital technology projects as their great enabler. Then came Covid-19 and these “steps” morphed into a fully committed, Cirque Du Soleil version of business agility and speed. Providing safe and reliable service to people who could no longer pay their bill was the new (daunting) hill to climb, but you made it to the top, almost overnight!

This experience brought utilities to the realization that their transformation projects are more important than ever if they are going to be prepared to best respond to what’s next. Prepared folks respond with thought and purpose. Unprepared leaders make emotional decisions that often fail to align with the overall vision of the business.

Having the right people at the helm of customer-centric transformation strategies, initiatives, and projects is critical. Unfortunately, the skills and knowledge many of us have today aren’t going to be what our businesses will need from us in the future. Evolving businesses require evolving employees. If we don’t evolve with clarity, purpose, and intentionality, we risk being replaced. To this point, we all know someone really smart who lost a job when their company decided to move in a new direction. Most of us don’t want to be that person (or be that person again).

Organizing Your Leadership Development Journey

The goal of sharpening your axe should align with the four pillars of leadership:

  1. Providing direction for yourself and others;
  2. Creating structure for teams and within roles;
  3. Building trust among internal and external stakeholders and customers; and…
  4. Fostering hope that inspires people to push forward when the world starts pushing back.

If it feels too ambiguous on your own, there are a whole lot of savvy career and leadership development experts who want to invest in you because of your importance to the future of utilities.

They are waiting for you to tackle alone, the Utility 2030 Collaborative’s leadership learning path, “Developing the Customer-Centric Utility Leaders of the Future” is a great way to get started. Visit our calendar page and register for upcoming open sessions at https://utility2030.org/calendar/. Can’t make it? Register anyway, and we’ll send you the recordings.

This is a 1/720 engagement opportunity. One hour out of the typical 720 hours you have each month is all you need to get started. 

Go Deeper

Become a member of the collaborative (for the price of a typical conference pass), and receive access to additional member-only opportunities including our annual summit, scheduled virtually on May 25-28, 2021. It includes a hands-on leadership development workshop on the 25th.

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